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Minister’s ‘big’ idea is not backed by studies

New Environment Minister Jose Herrera wants to put incinerators on oil rigs

An incinerator on a disused oil rig platform, which Environment Minister Jose Herrera announced as “the next big thing in Malta”, is not supported by studies on its feasibility or impact, according to answers received by The Sunday Times of Malta.

When pressed to substantiate his comment given during an interview with this newspaper three weeks ago, the Environment Minister backtracked, saying studies so far have not identified any specific direction.

“Since no decision has yet been taken, no site was identified whether land or marine”, the minister said.

In the interview, Dr Herrera had said: “We’re also considering incinerators on disused oil rig platforms. This will be the next big thing in Malta, and in the coming month you’ll be hearing a lot about it from this ministry.”

The generation of solid waste declined by more than a third in one year. Photo: Steve Zammit LupiThe generation of solid waste declined by more than a third in one year. Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

The Sunday Times of Malta asked Dr Herrera specific questions on the practicality and safety of such an option, such as the transport of waste to sea and the return of the toxic waste resulting from incineration back to shore. He was also asked about the final disposal of the toxic waste – landfill or export? The economic viability of the option was also questioned.

The reply did not give concrete answers to these specific questions related to an oil-rig on a disused platform.

The minister did say that despite the government’s efforts to reduce waste, a high fraction was still being landfilled. In 2014 – the latest data available – the total amount of solid waste generated amounted to 1.4 million tonnes.

This shows a decrease of almost 36 per cent over the previous year, proving that efforts to reduce waste generate were having a positive outcome. Yet Dr Herrera wants to take a decision on incineration this year. “I will be pursuing that decisions [sic] are taken during this year so that we can proceed with the way forward.” He insisted that Malta has limited landfill facilities and therefore a final solution other than landfills was required.

“These solutions can be either incineration or thermal/chemical processing. The latter processes are quite innovative and have proved commercially elusive due to other much cheaper options,” he said.

The cleaner the technology for the final disposal of waste, the more expensive. The choice is whether to prioritise human health and the environment, or the cost. “One could however consider more innovative technologies which do not entail incineration,” Dr Herrera said.

The Environment Minister denied that a proposal had been put to him for incineration on a disused oil rig.

“No one has proposed any project to the ministry, although different companies try to present their solutions. Once a decision is taken, I will be communicating it publicly and the subsequent process will be a transparent one,” he said.

Former environment minister Leo Brincat had been openly critical of plans by the previous administration (under former environment minister George Pullicino) to have another incinerator on the island – a plan not backed by the necessary studies, Mr Brincat had said.

Mr Brincat had tapped into EU funds to commission studies on the export of waste and waste-to-energy (a form of incineration that generates energy). The outcome of those studies is not yet known.

Yet Dr Herrera, who took the helm of the Environment Ministry two months ago when Mr Brincat was nominated to the European Court of Auditors, turned to incineration in one of his first comments to the media.

He acknowledges the technology is controversial and nobody wants it in their backyard.

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